7 Interesting TED Talks in French

You like learning French on YouTube, but have you tried TED talks?

While you can get emotional about and attached to any material with drama or comedy, a favorite song or an engaging interview, watching a talk about a subject that genuinely interests you makes you really pay attention.

TED Talks cover everything, giving you access to a whole world of passionate, intellectual content right at your fingertips.

But it gets even better, of course, because in this post we’re going to talk about TED Talks that are in French!


The Power of TED Talks for Learning French

TED Talks in French are major power boosts for your fluency level for lots of reasons:

  • They’re often equipped with both French and English subtitles, meaning that anyone can follow and understand the talk, no matter what their level.
  • The speech in TED Talks is usually clear and academic in nature, which makes listening easier than with some other French media.
  • They’re generally not flooded with the kinds of idioms and culture-specific humor that can sometimes make French films and shows difficult to follow.
  • The expressive nature of these talks means that the verb and phrasing choices of most of the speakers is superb. Their passion makes the way they speak very useful for learning fantastic phrases and words to express yourself in kind.
  • TED Talks usually sound more casual than a strictly-planned presentation: Speech fillers and pauses seem natural and it feels more like watching a real person talk to you (something you can miss when watching other kinds of videos). This kind of vibe helps you get a feel for what real French speaking looks and sounds like, invaluable for your next trip to l’Hexagone (France).
  • Not only will TED Talks help you practice your French skills in a way that’s the opposite of laborious, but in many of the talks, a spotlight is being placed on Francophone culture. The subjects discussed are the things that French-speaking people care about. Some will contain more cultural insight than others but all hint at a French-language mindset. You can especially deepen this effect if you watch talks with a more cultural slant. From the selection below, “Journalisme humanitaire, au-delà des clichés” by Elodie Vialle gives the most specifically French cultural insight.

Using TED Talks to Upgrade Your French Skills

You might be drawn to TED Talks for their interesting aspects, but you’ll definitely stay for the boost to your language skills. To help you gain maximum benefit, here are some general tips on using TED Talks to learn French.

Understanding the talks

Depending on your level of fluency, you may find some of these talks challenging to understand, especially those that are scientific or concept-based. If the content of a talk interests you, however, don’t let the difficulty of the language put you off. Instead, you can employ clever methods to tackle it regardless.

Here’s what I recommend for beginners and intermediates:

  1. Try watching a talk with the French subtitles first. When you see/hear a sentence that you don’t understand, switch to English subtitles so you can get the gist of what’s being said.
  1. While watching, consider how useful the talk is to you as a French learner. Terminology having to do with, for example, boats, biology, physics or diving may not end up being so useful to you in the real world, but expressions used in everyday speech will. If a talk is useful to you, and not simply jargon, take the time watch it more closely.
  1. Consider specific word choice, especially with verbs. Do words mean exactly what they translate to in English as or do they contain a French nuance that doesn’t translate exactly? (These are the points that you’ll really want to pick up on and note down.)
  1. Watch the talk through again without subtitles and see if you can follow what’s being said. Take note of the speaker’s gestures, intonation and facial expressions.

More advanced learners might like to take the opportunity to look out for more complex language structures and tackle listening to them in an unfamiliar context.

You might also like to note any interesting turns of phrase the speakers use.

Taking note of the specific language used will help you to talk about the subject yourself with as much enthusiasm and passion as the speakers show.

But it’s really up to you how you use the following material, as there’s always something to be learned from a TED Talk.

Finding useful talks

It can be difficult to know where to start when looking for French TED Talks. You can make this easier for yourself by looking at the pages of TEDx (independent from TED) events in various Francophone regions and scrolling through their videos (some provide categories to narrow them down).

Here are some to get you started:

You could also browse through past TED events throughout France and go through the website of each to find videos that look interesting.

Alternatively, if you have a topic in mind—e.g., danse (dance)—you could enter this along with “TED” or “TEDx” into YouTube and see what comes up.

Discussing talks in French

To practice your French in a well-rounded way, it’s advantageous to get in as many skills as possible with each activity.

With TED Talks, you can easily cover listening, and reading if you use French subtitles or read any of the extra resources.

You can also improve your writing and speaking skills by talking to (and chatting or emailing with) a French-speaking friend about the talks you’ve watched. This will help you to digest the information and form opinions as well as improve your conversation skills.

You can also always have a go at writing a comment on YouTube. Read through some of the others and then challenge yourself to write a thoughtful piece on your opinions and understanding of the talks.

Polyglots, Free-diving, the Universe: 7 TED Talks‏ in French to Inspire You

1. “Alors on danse” by Stromae

Why you need to watch this talk: Stromae is an international music star with a soft speaking style and an interesting view on the world. As an outsider (he identifies with his Rwandan background despite growing up in Belgium) who pens often-pessimistic lyrics, he presents catchy and poignant music.

If that isn’t enough to convince you, this will: Stromae’s talk is about 80% English, which makes this a great video for getting the gist of the TED Talk format while really honing in on the French that is used.

What you’ll be watching: In the video, Stromae gives us insight into how electronic music is made and where he draws his lyric inspiration from. He breaks down each layer of the song to show how they all fit together and then gives his interprétation (performance) at the end.

Language points for beginners: There’s lots of lovely language perfect for beginners here.

  • Stromae uses both the present tense and the future tense to indicate the immediate future when he says (0:17) “On va continuer peut-être en français, donc on verra” (we may continue in French, but we’ll see). Va is a conjugated form of aller (to go), and when used with a verb in the infinitive, it forms the immediate future. “On verra” (we’ll see) is a future tense formation.
  • (0:54) “Terre à terre” is a useful phrase. It means “down to earth.”
  • (2:41) “Je vous explique” (I will explain to you) is a good phrase for learning about the placement and nature of object pronouns in French. Notice how the vous (which corresponds to “to you”) is placed before the verb rather than after it.
  • (5:30) “Envie de danser” (feel like dancing): Avoir envie de… means to have a longing/feeling/craving for something, and Stromae uses this phrase in a really nice way.
  • (8:18) “Est-ce que vous êtes prêts à repartir” (are you ready to go)?: This is a great sentence for beginners. The sentence literally begins “is it that,” and this is a common way to structure French questions. The statement “ready to go” is put after this structure to make it a question.

Language points for intermediate/advanced learners:

  • (1:30) “Je fais ces leçons” (I’ll give this lecture/talk): You’ll probably be familiar with the word leçons (lessons), but note that when it’s given as a variation of faire la leçon it means to give a lecture/talk and not “to give a lesson.”
  • (2:16) “J’ai pas encore cité” (I haven’t yet mentioned) is a good phrase for every French learner, especially the use of encore, which can be used to mean “still/yet/even/again.”

Taking it further: If you feel you’d like to explore more of the song Stromae performs, here are the lyrics in French.

Major takeaway quote:

“Pourquoi est-ce que les gens dansent ? C’est peut-être pour oublier les problèmes.”

(Why is it that people dance? Maybe it’s to forget their problems.)

2. “Voyage entre deux inspirations” by Guillaume Néry

Why you need to watch this talk: Néry gives a beautiful speech on life’s meaning and beauty that goes beyond just giving us a glimpse of the world of a free-diver. His acceptance of limitations and fascinating relationship with the human body creates a very watchable video. We feel like we’re with Néry as he journeys into the unknown, seeing how he prepares and his motivations for such an unusual pursuit.

As well as being linguistically interesting for the way Néry chooses to express himself to us, this talk’s focus on aspects of the universal human experience make it “one to watch” for everyone.

What you’ll be watching: Footage from Néry’s record free-dive, his training and other diving experiences. Mostly, this is a video of Néry on stage, telling the audience how magical free-diving is and explaining the extraordinary physical phenomena that make it possible.

Language points for beginners:

A lot of the language in this video will be quite complicated for a beginner in French. But don’t skip this one if that’s your level, as there are still plenty of opportunities for you to learn here.

  • There are a lot of adjectives that have equivalent English meanings. Make a note of these and practice their pronunciation. For example (3:33), “Elle est lente, elle est profonde, elle est intense” (it’s slow, deep and intense), referring to his last breath before diving. These are all good adjectives to know, and intense is great for pronunciation practice because it has two nasal vowels.
  • (4:07) “Deuxième effet, on va avoir une vasoconstriction périphérique” (the second effect we have is peripheral vasoconstriction): Effet is a word you’ll hear a lot, and it’s quite easy to understand, as it’s similar to “effect.” “On va avoir” is another useful immediate future phrase for your arsenal, meaning “we’ll have.”
  • At 4:22, Néry helps us learn les organs nobles (the main organs), when he points them out on his body: “Les poumons, le cœur et le cerveau” (the lungs, the heart and the brain). These are very useful words for beginners that you can pick up throughout the talk.
  • (10:08) “J’ai une sensation de bien-être extraordinaire” (I have a feeling of extraordinary well-being): Some useful vocabulary here. Néry’s passion would instill a love of this phrase within even the most stubborn Franco-phobe!
  • (15:06) “L’air rentre dans mes poumons, c’est une renaissance” (air enters my lungs, it’s a rebirth): With the exception of a possible new verb (rentre) this phrase should be easy for most beginners. Note the use of renaissance, a word we use in English but that has a wider meaning in French.

Language points for intermediate/advanced learners:

For the more experienced French-speaker, there are some sophisticated expressions and scientific explanations in this talk.

  • (4:06) “Quasiment en quelques secondes, presque instantanément” (virtually in mere seconds, almost instantly): Here we have a couple of interesting expressions for talking about time. Although Néry doesn’t need both, in isolation they’re useful to remember to express tiny quantities of time.
  • (5:01) “J’ai un premier coup de pouce de la nature” (I have my first helping hand from nature): “Coup de pouce” is a very interesting phrase to slot into your repertoire and will help you sound naturally French. It literally means “strike of thumb” but is translated as “helping hand.”
  • If you’ve been carefully following what Néry has been saying from 5:24, at 5:54 there’s some beautiful imagery not to be missed. He describes “la sensation de voler sous l’eau” (the sensation of flying under the water) and says “Je glisse, tout doucement, vers le fond” (I slide, slowly, towards the bottom), which is almost poetry.
  • From 7:21 to 7:30, Néry makes some interesting points comparing the discomfort of diving to the feeling of entrapment as well as a nice fighting statement. Test your French skills and come up with your own idea of his argument.
  • (9:02) “Il a bousculé les idées reçues, balayé d’un revers de la main toutes ces croyances de la theorie” (he disregarded received ideas and with a sweep of his hand, got rid of all beliefs and theories). There are two great expressions here. Firstly, bousculé, which literally means “shoved,” and then “balayé d’un revers de la main,” which means “swept a backhand,” literally. Néry is using very physical imagery to express his admiration for his predecessor. It’s worth remembering these expressions for future use.

Taking it further: Try this book to further delve into the underwater world. Néry also has his own great book out, and it’s definitely worth a read.

Major takeaway quote:

“C’est un voyage aux frontières des limites humaines. Un voyage vers l’inconnu.”

(It’s a journey to the limits of human possibility. A journey into the unknown.)

3. “Peut-on penser l’origine de l’Univers ?” by Étienne Klein

Why you need to watch this talk: Klein presents a very interesting talk in which he explores not the science of the origin of the universe, but various theories about it and the question of whether the origin of the universe is a scientific or a spiritual idea. Klein’s general conclusion is that philosophy determines we’ll be unable to use science to explain where the universe comes from even as theories progress, due to our own limitations of thought.

What you’ll be watching: Klein progresses through a logical argument, presenting both science and philosophy’s viewpoints. He uses some visuals, but this is mainly a lecture rather than a demonstration.

Language points for beginners: Unfortunately, Klein uses a lot of academic language and unusual vocabulary due to the nature of the subject. Beginners, you may want to save this one for later!

Language points for intermediate/advanced learners:

For advanced learners especially, there’s some really useful and eloquent language to take note of here.

  • (0:51) “Est-ce qu’elles l’épousent même localement” (do they even match locally)?: This is an interesting phrase as the verb choice, épouser, is usually thought of as meaning “to wed/marry,” but here he’s talking about the laws of physics matching the natural world on a small scale.
  • (0:54) “Ou est-ce qu’elles divaguent” (or do they make no sense)?: Again, the verb choice of divaguer is sophisticated French and literally means “rambling,” though we’d probably say “nonsense” in this context.
  • (1:07) “Pour tenter de voir” (to attempt to see): The verb here, tenter, is a great alternative to essayer (to try) and means “to attempt.”
  • (1:57) “Il faut creuser la langue” (we must delve into language): Creuser is a great verb and perfect for this context.
  • (4:13) “Que les galaxies s’éloignent” (that the galaxies recede): S’éloignent is a reflexive verb meaning “to recede.”
  • (5:45) “S’est greffé sur lui” (has grafted thereon): An interesting use of greffer (to graft), to illustrate how the spiritual questioning has become part of science’s questioning.
  • (9:22) “On s’aperçoit que” (we can perceive that): A wonderful verb choice, aperçoit can also mean “to behold.”

More useful expressions:

  • (2:23) “Rendent-ils justice” (do they do [it] justice)
  • (3:03) “En tant que tel” (as such)
  • (3:42) “À grande échelle” (on a large scale)
  • (4:25) “Se déroulant dans l’autre sens” (going backwards, literally “taking place in the other direction”)
  • (5:08) “Chacun d’entre vous” (every one of you)
  • (7:27) “Je viens d’évoquer” (I just mentioned)
  • (9:03) “Tellement enchevêtrées” (so entangled)
  • (10:31) “Il rebondit sur lui-même” (it bounces on itself)
  • (12:13) “L’entretien” (the interview)
  • (12:30) “Compte tenu…” (considering…)

Taking it further: Klein has a book out on the same topic, worth a read if you enjoyed his talk!

Major takeaway quote:

“C’est de déterminer le lien qu’il faut établir entre ce que nous appelons la physique et puis le langage ordinaire.

(It’s determining the link that we have to establish between that which we call physics and the ordinary language.)

4. “Un polyglotte someille en vous” by Sébastian Roger de Nuñez

Why you need to watch this talk: To a language learner, polyglots are like rock stars. Besides, Nuñez offers some interesting ideas and viewpoints. This talk is a great way to get inspired about language learning.

What you’ll be watching: This talk is shorter than the others. It involves Nuñez going through the reasons for learning a language, the relationships between languages and useful methods to get talking.

Language points for beginners: There’s some complex language in this talk, but most beginners should be able to understand the majority of what’s being said and gain some interesting language on top of it.

  • (1:12) “Mais je n’ai pas jeté l’éponge” (but I haven’t thrown in the towel): It’s interesting for beginners to see how idioms vary. “Jeté l’éponge” literally means “thrown the sponge,” whereas we would say, “thrown in the towel.”
  • (3:05) “Il se sent à l’aise avec moi” (he felt at ease with me): Se sent is great for beginners to learn and means “feels.” L’aise sounds like “ease” and so is easy to understand and remember.
  • (8:10) “J’estime” (I believe): Great for beginners to understand. Don’t confuse it with “estimate”!
  • (10:18) “Vous aurez bien l’air fin” (then you’ll seem completely stupid): Another idiom for beginners, “avoir l’air fin” uses beginner-friendly words and means “to seem stupid.”

Language points for intermediate/advanced learners:

This video is a cornucopia of everyday expressions for a more advanced learner. Here’s a selection of useful things to take note of as you watch.

  • (0:57) “Que j’ai su retenir du japonais” (that I have managed to retain from Japanese): “J’ai su rétenir” is a great phrase for intermediate learners; it literally translates to “I knew to retain” but translates in meaning to “I managed to retain/remember.” This is one of the many uses of the French verb savoir.
  • (1:44) “C’est celui auquel on a été tous soumis quand on était enfant” (it’s that which we were all submitted to as children). “Celui auquel,” meaning “that which,” is a really useful phrase for intermediates to learn.
  • (4:54) “Intéressons-nous à nos frères et sœurs” (let’s look at our brothers and sisters): “Intéressons-nous” is useful. It means “let’s look,” and is more literally like “let’s interest ourselves,” which sounds a bit weird in English!
  • (6:39) “Décliné en plein de langues” (available in lots of languages): “Décliné en plein” means “available in full/lots,” which is not what you’d think when you look at it because décliner means “to decline.” It’s still a useful phrase for a learner’s arsenal.
  • (7:45) “En tendant bien l’oreille” (paying attention, when listening): This phrase is interesting because it’s more specific than the English equivalent and very useful in contexts like this one.

Taking it further: Building on the concepts of speaking that Nuñez introduces, you might like to treat a younger learner to one of these.

Major takeaway quote:

“La seule difficulté est celle d’oser.”

(The only difficulty is daring to.)

5. “Journalisme humanitaire, au-delà des clichés” by Élodie Vialle

Why you need to watch this talk: Vialle presents a very compelling talk on the subject of humanitarian journalism and how we can eliminate stereotypes and post-colonial thinking in the way that we help countries. She criticizes certain representations of aid and NGOs—especially fund-raising tactics—and examines the way journalists and the media can show poverty while retaining the dignity of the people who various organizations are helping.

What you’ll be watching: For most of the talk, Vialle is explaining her views and experiences with the help of visual aids. Near the end there’s a video (in English) produced by an NGO.

Language points for beginners:

  • (0:19) “Après le séisme” (after the earthquake): This is an interesting word for beginners who have been taught the phrase tremblement de terre for “earthquake.” Séisme can also be used; note how it’s similar to the word “seismic,” which we use in relation to earthquakes.
  • (2:02) “Gagner sa vie” (to earn your living): A beginner may find it interesting that the word gagner, meaning “to win,” is used in the context of living here rather than “to earn.”
  • (4:53) “Regardez-le bien” (really look at it): If you’re just getting used to the many different ways the French use bien, here’s a great example. In this context, it’s saying “look closely.”
  • (5:37) “Ça tombe à l’eau” (that comes to nothing): This translates literally to “that falls in the water” and it means “to not work.”

Language points for intermediate/advanced learners:

  • (0:30) “Appelaient de leurs vœux à aider le pays” (are calling for help for the country): This is an interesting phrase for intermediate students. It translates literally to “called of their desire” and is used in the context of wanting change or something to happen, as you can see here.
  • (0:40) “Les gens qui interpellent” (people who are crying for help): Vialle’s choice of word here is a great one for learners; “interpellent” means to speak/shout to someone because you want something.
  • (1:38) “Soi-disant au nom des Haïtiens” (supposedly in the name of the Haitians): This translates literally to “self-saying,” and you can see how that’s the same sentiment as “so-called” or “supposedly” here.
  • (3:15) “Mais force est de constater” (but it should be noted): This is a very useful phrase and will really help learners boost their fluency. It translates literally to “strength is in noting” and is very powerful in the context of Vialle’s argument.
  • (5:19) “Jette en pâture” (is thrown to the lions) literally means “thrown on the pastures” and it means that one thing is sacrificed for the benefit of something else. Here Vialle says that the consent and dignity of poor children is sacrificed for the benefit of donation campaigns.

Taking it further: If you’re interested in journalism as a topic, here’s another French TEDx video on it.

Major takeaway quote:

“Le symbole est tellement fort, que le cliché devient réalité.”

(The symbol is so strong that the stereotype becomes true.)

6. “Protéger les océans pour un autre anthropocène” by César Harada

Why you need to watch this talk: Harada presents a fascinating talk, briefly explaining three major threats to ocean life and then guiding us through his team’s work to build technology to help save the oceans. His team’s style of working and the products of their work are revolutionary and will certainly make a huge difference to the way we approach ocean health. Even if technology isn’t your thing, there’s plenty to gain from this talk.

What you’ll be watching: Harada uses videos, prototypes and visual aids to explain his technology and crafts the story of his drive to save the oceans very compellingly. There’s plenty to watch here; you might even forget to focus on the language at some points.

Language points for beginners:

  • (0:38) “C’est la marée noire” (that’s the oil spill): Marée is similar to mer (sea), so you might be able to work out that it means “tide” or something similar. Marée noire literally means “black tide.”
  • (5:08) “De vent faible, de vent fort” (weak wind, strong wind): Here are two great adjectives for beginners, “strong” and “weak.”
  • (9:37) “Nous avons des plates-formes extrèmement stables” (we have extremely stable platforms): Now you know where the word “platform” came from! It literally means “flat structure” in French.

Language points for intermediate/advanced learners:

  • (1:05) “Un goût vraiment personnel” (a really personal meaning): This might interest you because the phrase is so bizarre. It translates literally to “a really personal taste.”
  • (2:41) “Lorsqu’une marée noire éclate” (when an oil spill erupts): This verb is an unusual one; éclater can mean to blow up, break out, erupt or flare.
  • (6:10) “Là en l’occurrence” (there, namely): Another sophisticated phrase for your quiver.
  • (7:09) “On va pouvoir tourner plus sèchement” (we will be able to turn more crisply): Note that “sèchement” is used, translating directly to “curtly/sharply.”
  • (11:31) “Se coller ensemble” (to stick together): Interestingly, se coller can also be used in the context of affection and can mean to hug or snuggle.

Taking it further: If you find Harada’s work fascinating, check him out on the TED website. Posts are available in English and French.

Major takeaway quote:

“Une autre anthropocène est necessaire.”

(Another anthropocene/geological era where humans cause an impact is needed.)

7. “La thérapie cellulaire, avenir de la médecine ?” by Fabrice Chrétien

Why you need to watch this talk: Anyone with an interest in scientific advancement will enjoy this video. The ideas that Chrétien explores and his explanation of the biological processes involving cells are presented with the non-scientist in mind.

What you’ll be watching: Chrétien talks us through stem cells and the possibilities and limitations with the help of some visual aids.

Language points for beginners:

  • (1:40) “Millions de milliards de cellules” (million billion cells) be careful not to confuse these two different words as numbers; they’re very similar.
  • (8:47) “Comment ça marche” (how does it work)?: A simple and useful phrase for all beginners.

Language points for intermediate/advanced learners:

  • (1:24) “C’est quelque chose d’absolument déterminant” (it’s something that’s absolutely crucial): Déterminant, meaning “crucial” in this context, is a great word to express the importance of something.
  • (1:51) “N’importe quelle des cellules” (any cells) is an alternative to tout. “N’importe quelle” literally means “it’s not important which” and means “any.” Here it’s feminine because cellule is a feminine word. The masculine version is n’importe quel.
  • (2:38) “D’autres beaucoup plus embêtantes pour la cellule” (the others are a lot more pesky for the cell): The interesting word here is embêtantesmeaning “pesky.”
  • (4:22) “C’est un amas de quelques cellules” (it’s a heap of a few cells): Here “amas” means an accumulation of things that are all different.
  • (9:43) “En revanche… “ (on the other hand): This is a great phrase for use in an essay/argument.

Taking it further: If stem cell therapy interests you, learn more about it and practice your French at the same time with this book!

Major takeaway quote:

“La malade sortira avec un cœur comme neuf.”

(The patient would leave with a heart like new.)

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